While love and preparation can help build the foundation for a strong marriage, every marriage inevitably faces challenges and obstacles, Fr. Kramer said. And when these difficulties arise, the Church does not abandon couples.
When struggling couples approach him for advice, the first question Fr. Kramer asks is whether they have been attending Mass and going to Confession. The sacraments, he said, form the core of our lives and relationships, and the graces of the sacraments have a key place in marriage as well.
“People always have financial difficulties, they’ll always have difficulty communicating, but if they’ve separated themselves from the Church or from the sacraments,” Fr. Kramer said, “then it’s difficult to live that out in their life.”
In addition to the sacraments, Fr. Kramer noted, parish priests can offer guidance or counseling. And some dioceses also offer marriage enrichment programs like “Three to Stay Married,” “Marriage Encounter,” and “ReFOCCUS” to help couples revitalize their relationship with God and with each other.
Many couples who previously used contraception also report that learning and using Natural Family Planning can help heal divisions and can bring about new life in a relationship, he said.
The Church can also help find aid for those struggling with separation from a spouse, addictions such as pornography, or healing for other struggles like infertility or miscarriage. Finally, the archdiocese offers a support group called “Post-Cana” for widows and widowers grieving after a marriage has ended because of death.
In some of the more difficult situations, where couples have sought aid from other resources to no avail, there is still support and hope for healing. Denise Felde, a presenter for Retrouvaille of Maryland / Washington DC, spoke to CNA about her organization, which has been helping heal marriages since the late 1970s.
Started by Guy and Jeannine Beland in French-speaking Quebec, Retrouvaille – which means “reunion” in French – seeks to address severe struggles couples may face that cannot be adequately supported by other marriage enrichment programs. The program states in its online description that it “is not a retreat, marriage counseling, or a sensitivity group. There are neither group dynamics nor group discussions on the weekend. It is not a time for hurting; it is a time for healing.”
“Retrouvaille is surgery to get rid of the bad and to deal with the problems in a calm and loving manner,” Felde said.
The program begins with an intense weekend experience led by three couples who have also been through a period of intense struggle in their relationship. A Catholic priest or other minister is also typically present as well.
Throughout the weekend, attendees go through series of presentations and have chances to talk with their spouse, and typically there are also opportunities for confession, Mass and prayer. Afterwards, the couples meet for 12 follow up sessions, typically occurring over the span of 6 weeks.
In the program, “we teach couples how to talk to each other to help each other understand where the other is coming from,” Felde explained. Organizers place a focus on listening to one another and accepting their spouse’s feelings without judgment. This approach “helps people to speak to one another without being angry, being calm and accepting.”
Every couple has challenges in their marriage, Felde said, but the problems faced by many Retrouvaille participants – such as adultery, drug abuse, mental illness, and pornography – “are more severe.”
“It’s very hard. It’s extremely hard work,” she acknowledged, but added that healing is possible. Many times, Retrouvaille leaders also help couples find referrals for expert help and counseling. “If it’s a problem we can’t help them with, we have a list of places.”
Since the program’s beginning, it has spread throughout the world to countries including South Korea, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Portugal and elsewhere. The program has a 92 percent success rate worldwide in helping couples heal their marriages.
After the main program is over, couples are invited to continue growing in their relationship through the support group CORE – or “Continuing our Retrouvaille Experience” – once a month. Couples can attend any support group anywhere in the world for the rest of their lives.
Felde explained that like many fellow presenting couples, she feels called to help other couples find healing in their marriages because of how Retrouvaille helped heal her own marriage. “For my husband and I, Retrouvaille saved our marriage 20 years ago,” she said. “We believe in giving back.”
Everyone is part of a family
While marriage is a key focus for the Church, it’s not only those who are married who have something to give to family life, Fr. Kramer said. “Every person from every walk of life is a part of a family.”
“It’s wrong to think that because a person is single they don’t fit in to the parish as part of a family,” he noted. “Every person is a son or daughter, a sister or a brother and has a role to play in the family,” and in supporting marriage and family life.
The priest encouraged all Catholics to pray for and support marriage and its vocation of love. “Pray for marriage, pray for strong marriages and pray for the healing of families who are facing struggles or challenges.”